Indexing ITMA

Curious about how singers and scholars find new songs? Or make connections with old ones? Indexes and catalogues are often essential tools. ITMA is delighted to contribute to the largest index of English-language song currently in existence.

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The Breathnach Tune Index at ITMA. This card catalogue makes it possible to identify variants of the same tune. The Roud Index does the same thing, but for English-language song.

The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of more than 250,000 references to songs collected from English language oral traditions through the world. It includes a broadside index, a field recording index, and brings together all of the well-known printed sources about songs—like the ballads published by Francis James Child (a 19th-century American scholar, educator, and folklorist) and the system of numbering songs that was created by George Malcolm Laws during the 1950s.

Each song that is entered into the Roud Index is accompanied by particular details:

  • The title of the song
  • The name of the singer
  • Details about where and when the song was collected, but also where the song can now be found
  • First line of the song
  • Roud Number, assigned based on the content (the story, the people, the action) of the song.

Because the Roud index contains so many song references, it makes it possible to search for references to songs across many collections throughout the world. It also enables singers and scholars to explore and compare variations of the same song.

The Roud Folk Song Index is the largest of its kind and continues to grow through the efforts of its creator, Stephen Roud, and the support of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. While it started as a basic card catalogue, it is now a fully searchable and freely available web-based resource. It is available online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

ITMA is delighted to be part of this tremendous work in connecting libraries and archives, and making information about traditional song widely accessible. Some of the songs from the ITMA Collection are referenced in the Roud Index. Many of the songs from the Inishowen Song Project, for example, are described in the index.

This autumn, Stephen Roud once again decided to delve into the ITMA Collection for more songs. He started with the more than 60 recordings that we made freely accessible in the latest ITMA digital exhibition, A Grand Time during August 2018.

And then he turned to ITMA’s online catalogue to learn more about the Aidan O’Hara Collection—this is the group of recordings, images, and manuscripts on which A Grand Time is based. By the time he finished, more than 700 songs had been added to the Roud Folk Song Index, about 500 of which were assigned a number.